Your child will soon start attending an educational daycare center? This will be a new experience for your child that will bring many changes to his daily life. Here are some strategies to help your child adjust to this new environment.
Stages of adaptation to child care
When a child starts daycare, he or she is faced with a lot of new things. They are moving from a safe place, their home, to an unknown environment. They also have to get used to being cared for by people other than their parents, and learn to live with other children.
All these important changes require a period of adaptation. It is important to note that having a strong attachment with the parents helps the child adapt well to the child care setting.
The adjustment period generally lasts from two to four weeks, depending on the child’s age and temperament. For some toddlers, however, this adaptation may take longer and last up to 2 months, the time it takes to get used to the environment and to feel safe with the educator. For example, adaptation may be more difficult for a baby who starts daycare at 8 to 12 months of age. At this age, the child experiences separation anxiety with his parents. They are afraid of being abandoned and not seeing their parents again when they don’t see them. They need even more time to get used to new situations and people.
Since each child is unique, the ways in which he or she reacts during the adaptation period at the daycare center may be different. However, there are four stages in the reactions of toddlers.
Discovering the new
At first, the child is fascinated by the new, stimulating environment, full of toys and other toddlers. He may even be excited when he arrives in the morning and not react too much when his parents leave.
After about a week, the novelty wears off. The child realizes that he or she will return every day. He sometimes reacts strongly: he cries or opposes. During the day, he/she is less interested in other children, games and activities. The shock of reality lasts one to two weeks.
Fear of abandonment
After reality shock, the child wonders if his or her parents will return. They may cry when they see them leave. They may feel insecure and appear sad. Some toddlers refuse to sleep or eat and, if they are older, some may even regress (e.g., they ask for the pacifier again). This stage can last from one to three weeks.
The child develops a bond of attachment with the educator. He finally feels confident with her. He/she can now participate enthusiastically in games and interact with the other children. The adaptation is complete.
To prepare your child before the first day
Talk with your child about the child care setting. Even if your child is a toddler, explain that he or she will be able to play there with other children while Mom and Dad are at work. Let them know that a teacher will be there to take care of them. It’s also a good idea to read books about the center to familiarize your child with the place.
Visit the daycare with your toddler before he or she starts going. This will help them get to know the place with you. It’s also a chance for your child to get to know the people who will be taking care of him. When you get home, explain to your child how his or her days will be spent there.
Make frequent detours to walk past the daycare with your child. Invite your child to wave and say hello to the child care setting, friends and staff.
Spend some time in the center with your child before he or she officially enters. For example, you can go for a snack with the teacher and the other children a week before your toddler starts daycare. This gives your child a chance to see the daycare routine and get to know the other children.
Go to the park with your toddler at the same time as the daycare children, if the educators take them to a park in your neighborhood. This way, some of the faces will be more familiar to your child when he or she enters the daycare.
Explain to your child the new routine that will take place on daycare days. For example: get dressed, have breakfast, brush teeth, leave.
Describe the route to the daycare. Remind him of his teacher’s name and the names of some of the children in his group, if you know them. Knowing a little bit about what’s coming will help your child feel more confident.
Talk to the teacher about your child. Give her information about your child’s routines, games he or she is interested in, what he or she likes to eat, sleeping habits, etc. This will help her take better care of your child. Of course, if your toddler has special needs, you should discuss them with the child care center beforehand so that accommodations can be made.
To make the first few weeks in child care easier
Choose a gradual introduction during the first two or three weeks. Start, if possible, by spending time with your child in the child care setting. This can be for a period of 30 minutes to 2 hours to help your child get used to the new environment with you. Each day, decrease the amount of time you spend with your child and increase the amount of time your child spends without you at the daycare. This allows your toddler and caregiver to get to know each other.
If possible, try to have your toddler with the same teacher all day at first. For example, if she works 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., try to adjust your schedule accordingly for the first few weeks. This may be easier to arrange if your child is going to start daycare while you are still on parental leave.
Help your child anticipate what is going to happen. For example, you can say, “When you get to daycare, you’ll go to your room. In the morning, you’re going to have snack and play outside. “Your toddler may feel a little more secure if he knows what’s going to happen.
Specify when you will pick him up with words and cues he understands so he knows you will return. For example, say, “I’ll pick you up after your afternoon snack. “Remind them that you will always pick them up. If you won’t be picking him up, be sure to tell him who will be picking him up at the end of the day.
Repeat the same goodbye gestures every morning (e.g., two pecks, a big hug and off you go). These rituals become landmarks that make adjustment easier because they are predictable for your toddler. And never leave without saying goodbye. Many children find separation easier when they feel in control. For example, the teacher can offer to watch your child leave from one of the nursery windows to say goodbye.
Bring a transitional object (e.g., blanket, stuffed animal) that will reassure your toddler. Its familiar smell can help your child better cope with the separation from his parents. The comforter or plushie allows your child to think of you and to wait for your return while feeling secure. It’s also a good idea to bring a family photo or a small album of family photos for your toddler to look at when he’s bored.
Comfort and reassure your child. Even if he’s a toddler, put words to the situation he’s experiencing and name his emotions: “You’re sad. You can’t wait for me to come home. “You can tell him that even though you are working, you will think about him during the day and imagine him playing. Remind him that you have a picture of him to look at when you miss him.
If your child has an older sibling in the same child care setting, ask that they see each other every day during their adjustment period. It’s reassuring for a child to spend a little time with his or her sibling.
If your toddler cries when she sees you again at the end of the day, let her know you understand and put her feelings into words again. Say, for example, “You were sad that I wasn’t here anymore, but you see, I’m back. “
To help your child feel comfortable in the child care setting.
Talk about what he did at the daycare every day. Even if they are small, talk about what you already know to show them that you are interested in what they are doing in their child care setting. For example, say, “You went to the park today” or “It was William’s party, there was a cake”. If he is older, ask him questions about his day, such as “What was your favorite activity today? “
Post his accomplishments and pictures from daycare (e.g., drawings, crafts, pictures of him with his daycare friends). This will help him get used to his new environment and remind him of the great times he has had there.
Show your toddler that you appreciate his caregiver. For example, speak highly of her when you are home. If your child sees that you trust the teacher and are not worried about leaving him/her at the daycare, he/she will adjust more easily. If the caregiver agrees, take a picture of her with your child to put on your fridge at home so you can talk to her about her by showing her picture.
Take time with your child when you get home to play with him/her before you make dinner. When you give your child attention, your child feels loved and reassured. As a baby, playing peek-a-boo can also be helpful in helping your child realize that even if he or she doesn’t see you anymore, you are still there.
How to develop good communication with the educator?
Working well with your child’s educator is essential to help your child adjust to the child care setting. Here are some tips for creating a good bond and teaming up with her.
Try to have a small discussion with your child’s teacher each day. In the morning, you can tell her how your toddler is doing: if she is feeling well, if she is excited about something, if she is worried about something, etc. This way, the educator will be able to react with discernment with your child, for example if she knows that he had a restless night and is more irritable than usual. Similarly, when you return, ask the teacher how things went with your child during the day. Many daycares use a daily communication book (logbook) to summarize the important facts of your child’s day. Refer to it for information and to ask questions if needed.
Call the teacher during the day to see how your child is doing in the first few weeks or on a day when he or she doesn’t seem to be doing well. However, ask if this is possible, and when it is best to call. It’s important that you both agree that your call won’t interfere with your child’s attention to other children.
Never hesitate to talk to your child’s teacher if you have any concerns. For example, if your toddler doesn’t seem to be adjusting well to daycare, cries a lot or pushes others away. Together you can figure out the best ways to help your toddler.